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Coping with Social Anxiety

Posted Feb 22 2009 12:00am
This topic was suggested in a recent comment and I figured it was something I haven't covered properly in the past - so here goes...

Defining Social Anxiety
Social Anxiety isn't something that only affects people with aspergers, it affects people with all kinds of mental conditions as well as those with physical issues, weight issues and other differences that mentally or physically distinguish them from the general populace. The distinction may not necessarily be a real one but could, and often does, only exist in the subject's mind. Social Anxiety is so great an issue, that it's considered to be the third largest psychological problem in the world today.

Social anxiety isn't limited to difficulty meeting people in face to face conversation but also includes;

  • Telephone Conversations
  • Social Occasions
  • Simply Going Outdoors in Public Places
  • Being Watched
  • Recording (video and photo Cameras, Microphones etc)
  • Instant Messaging, Chats, Facebook and other Web 2.0 Systems

Aspies tend to walk a line that varies between total fear and no fear, depending largely upon the individual. Some aspies aren't afraid of face-to-face verbal interactions but just aren't very good at it. Constant negative feedback however can often tip the scales.

Acting and Public Speaking as Ways to Reduce Social Anxiety
The best ways to reduce social anxiety, particularly in the school years, revolve around "jumping straight in" - regardless of how scared the individual might be. This doesn't work well at younger ages, where such fears can lead to meltdowns but it's quite acceptable for the mid to late teenage years.

When I was at school, I had "buddy" teacher (a teacher who became a good and trusted friend). One day this teacher picked me out of the class and said that he had noted that I was good with history and thought that I should join the debating team. He gave me a couple of days to sign up on my own - but I didn't. Then he joined me up and informed me that I was now committed. At first, I was a little annoyed but he made it clear that he thought it would be good for me and that he would be supporting me all the way.

The teacher led me on with the promise of replacing me when a suitable person could be found. Of course, now I can see that it was all a ploy and I went on "debating tour" and was forced to confront my demons.

Around the same time, the teacher suggested that I take "drama" as one of my elective subjects. I had absolutely no desire to act and I really couldn't see the point of drama but he told me that it was an essential skill. In retrospect, I have to agree.

There's absolutely no mistaking the importance of public speaking and acting for people with aspergers. Amongst other things, it helps you to lose the "monotone" in your voice - a feature that aspies are famous for. It also prepares you for "acting the rest of your life".

If you're interested in reading about acting therapy for aspergers, you might be interested in the following book;

Teaching Asperger's Students Social Skills through Acting: All Their World's a Stage
by Amelia Davies

Unlike most NT's aspies tend to "act" every day, often faking emotional reactions, tones and gestures in order to appear more like the NTs that surround them. It's no surprise therefore that there are a lot of famous actors with aspergers.

More to come...
There's a lot more to discuss in relation to social anxiety. Next time, I'll give some more concrete examples of how social anxiety displays, how the quality of an individual's interactions can increase or decrease social anxiety and tips for improving on a day to day basis.
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